Is Dental School Worth the Student Debt?

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dental school worth it

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Pursuing a degree in dentistry can lead to a fulfilling and high-paying career as a health care professional, but it can also involve a large amount of dental school debt. So, given the high cost of tuition these days, is dental school worth it?

Let’s answer the following questions in order to decide whether taking out dental school loans is worth it for your particular case:

First question: Is dental school worth it? Debt vs. ROI

For many considering dental school, a dentist’s high earning potential is a big draw.

“I think the costs of dental school are worth the benefits — you can make a very good living of it,” said Jason Cabler, DDS, a dentist who’s been practicing for 24 years and oversees the personal finance blog Celebrating Financial Freedom.

The median pay for dentists is $159,200, according to 2019 Bureau of Labor Statistics data. New dental school graduates won’t be earning this much right away — but they will start with relatively high pay, with a median entry-level salary of $135,650, according to employment data company PayScale.

The biggest reasons to think twice about dental school, however, are the high costs of tuition and, for many students, dental school debt — still, you are looking forward to big earnings in your future career.

Before deciding to attend dental school, research the costs and project your financial outcomes.

“Get serious about repaying [your debt] — dentistry can be a stressful profession, and debt will just add to that stress,” said Cabler.

Lost earnings while in dental school could be nearly $300,000

When thinking about whether dental school is worth it, it’s important to note that dental school isn’t just an investment of your time and money — you’re also missing out on potential income.

A typical graduate with a bachelor’s of science in chemistry (a common major for pre-dental undergraduates) can expect a typical salary around $74,000 annually, per PayScale. But a graduate who chooses to use their time attending dental school will lose out on those earnings. At that annual salary, the typical lost earnings of a dental student could be $296,000 over the four years it takes to earn a Doctor of Medicine in Dentistry (DMD) degree.

Average dental school debt: $292,169

Then there’s the matter of paying for dental school. Students often have to borrow heavily to cover tuition, fees, equipment and supplies needed for their studies.

It’s not uncommon to take out student loans to cover living costs while attending dental school full-time, either. Because of this, the average dental school debt was $292,169 for indebted students in the Class of 2019, according to the American Dental Education Association.

Here are some more stats on average dental school debt:

  • A borrower with the average dental school debt of $292,169, who borrowed a grad PLUS loan at a 5.3% interest rate, faces a monthly payment of $3,142 on the standard 10-year plan.
  • This same borrower would pay $84,862 in interest on this debt, for a total cost of $377,031.
  • It’s rare to make it out of dental school with no or little debt; only one in five 2019 dental school graduates had dental school debt under $200,000.
  • Among dental school graduates with debt, 39% owed more than $300,000.

Consider how long it will take to make back your investment

Between missed earnings, student debt principal and interest, a dental school graduate could sink half a million dollars or more into dental school. But that investment also buys dental school graduates a spot in a high-paying profession. So how long does this investment take to start paying off?

The return on investment will depend, of course, on how much a new dentist is paid. Dentists who graduate and are able to find high-paying jobs will see a return on their dental school investment much faster.

Let’s compare the typical entry-level dentist salary of approximately $135,650 with the $74,000 average salary of a chemist with only a bachelor’s degree. Assuming a 5% increase in earnings each year, here’s how the earnings compare:

Dentist salary Bachelor’s salary Difference Total return
Year 1 $135,650.00 $74,000.00 $61,650.00 $61,650.00
Year 2 $142,432.50 $77,700.00 $64,732.50 $126,382.50
Year 3 $149,554.13 $81,585.00 $67,969.13 $194,351.63
Year 4 $157,031.83 $85,664.25 $71,367.58 $265,719.21
Year 5 $164,883.42 $89,947.46 $74,935.96 $340,655.17

As shown in the table above, it could take five years for a dentist’s increased earning potential to offset their dental school debt. However, by that point, the investment in dental school is also generating nearly $75,000 extra in income each year.

5 more questions to figure out if dental school is worth it

You’ve now seen the typical dental school return on investment (ROI), but these numbers aren’t the whole picture. There are other factors to consider besides your bottom line — and a central concern should be managing dental school debt.

Here are five questions you should consider when weighing your personal dental school ROI:

1. Will dentistry make me happy?
2. Can I limit dental school debt?
3. Is student loan forgiveness really an option?
4. What are my dental school debt repayment options?
5. Can I aggressively pay down student debt?

1. Will dentistry make me happy?

Dental school graduate Danny Masters, DDS, said that the decision to go to dental school had more to do with his dream of becoming a dentist than earning a high income.

“I am confident that you can earn a lot of money as a dentist, but because it is so expensive, that shouldn’t be the only factor,” Masters said. “From a purely financial perspective, I think there are lots of other jobs you can get or create and earn six figures without investing half a million.”

Cabler agreed that dentistry won’t be the right career for everyone. For those considering dental school, he suggested getting an idea of what the job is like.

“I made friends with my dentist, for instance, and went in and hung out with him in his practice as much as I could to see what it is all about,” he said. “I had a good idea of what I was walking into, but some people don’t.”

2. Can I limit dental school debt?

You should also consider whether you can limit your dental school debt. If you can reduce the amount of debt you take on, it can have a huge effect on your finances for at least 10 years after graduation.

Masters ended up graduating with $570,000 in combined graduate and dental school debt — a high balance that he said was the result of not living on a budget while in dental school. He wishes he’d done more to limit his dental school debt and had some suggestions for how those attending can do so:

  • Get used to living on a budget. “Start now by living on a budget and get used to that lifestyle until your loans are paid off,” Masters said.
  • Downsize your expenses. Consider switching to a cheaper apartment or even moving back in with your parents while in school.
  • Choose a low-cost dental school. “Sometimes you don’t have many options in terms of what dental schools you are accepted to,” Masters said. “But aim for the best schools with the smallest price tag,” both when applying for and choosing your dental school. For instance, in-state public dental schools may be less costly than private dental schools.
  • Borrow only what you need. Student loans are not free money, so resist the temptation to treat them that way. Only take out student loans for the amounts you need to cover tuition and bare necessities, even if you could borrow more.
  • Get someone else to pay for dental school. Apply for every scholarship you can find. Consider participating in programs like the National Health Service Corps (NHSC) or the armed forces that offer tuition assistance for a work commitment.

3. Is student loan forgiveness really an option?

In addition to limiting dental school debt, students should also make a plan to repay student loans — don’t assume you can have your student loans forgiven.

“Many classmates would say things in passing like, ‘Eh, we’ll just apply for student loan forgiveness,’” Masters recalled. “But [student loan forgiveness] really is a complicated decision and fairly uncharted territory.”

Programs offering student loan forgiveness for dentists have specific rules for eligibility. You can see a full list of these programs in our guide to student loan forgiveness for dentists.

Qualifying for student loan forgiveness might require a dentist to move — often to a rural area — for lower pay. Deciding whether to trade a high income for forgiveness isn’t a cut-and-dry decision.

4. What are my dental school debt repayment options?

Look into other options to keep dental school debt affordable:

With each option, think carefully about potential tradeoffs. For example, Masters said he hopes to refinance his debt to reduce the interest he pays. But he wants to wait until he’s sure he can afford the monthly payments that would be as high as $7,000 for a 10-year term.

“You lose protections when you refinance, so when you have as much debt as [my wife and I] do, it’s a good idea to have sure footing going into it,” he said.

5. Can I aggressively pay down student debt?

The above options can be helpful in managing student debt. But for dentists looking to maximize their dental school ROI, working to pay down student debt fast will be one of the best ways to do so. For each student loan you pay off, you free up cash flow and reduce the amount of interest you pay over time.

Maximizing your earning potential can help you generate extra income to put toward student loans, too. For instance, you might choose to pursue high-paying dental specialties. You might also work toward owning your own practice: Private practitioners often earn higher incomes and have more growth opportunities than dentists working with a dental service organization.

With a dentist’s high pay, it’ll still be a challenge — but a doable one.

“When you get out of school, you’re going to be making a good bit of money,” Cabler said. “But I recommend that for the first two or three years after school, live like you’re still in dental school and put every extra penny towards student loans.”

If this is your goal, refinancing dental school debt can be a smart strategy. If you can get lower interest rates, more of your payments will go toward actually lowering your principal and paying off the loan.

Final question: How can you get low-interest dental school loans?

If you’ve decided that dental school is worth it, you might need student loans to cover your education costs. Before borrowing, make sure to max out your options for grants and scholarships.

If you need additional funding, first turn to direct loans for graduate students. Once you’ve hit your borrowing limits, consider a grad PLUS loan or a private student loan.

As long as you don’t have an adverse credit history (or can apply with an endorser), you can borrow a PLUS loan up to the cost of attendance of your school. But if you have good credit (or a creditworthy cosigner), it’s worth exploring your options for private student loans to see if you could get a better rate.

Take advantage of online prequalification checks to compare rates without dinging your credit. By taking some time to shop around, you can find dental school loans with decent rates and flexible repayment terms.

Rebecca Safier contributed to this report.

Interested in refinancing student loans?

Here are the top 9 lenders of 2021!
LenderVariable APREligible Degrees 
1.88% – 6.15%1Undergrad
& Graduate

Visit Splash

1.88% – 5.64%2Undergrad
& Graduate

Visit Earnest

2.50% – 6.85%3Undergrad
& Graduate

Visit CommonBond

1.89% – 5.90%4Undergrad
& Graduate

Visit Laurel Road

2.25% – 6.39%5Undergrad
& Graduate

Visit SoFi

1.88% – 5.64%6Undergrad
& Graduate

Visit NaviRefi

1.90% – 5.25%7Undergrad
& Graduate

Visit Lendkey

2.39% – 6.01%Undergrad
& Graduate

Visit Elfi

2.13% – 5.25%8Undergrad
& Graduate

Visit PenFed

Check out the testimonials and our in-depth reviews!
1 Important Disclosures for Splash Financial.

Splash Financial Disclosures

Terms and Conditions apply. Splash reserves the right to modify or discontinue products and benefits at any time without notice. Rates and terms are also subject to change at any time without notice. Offers are subject to credit approval. To qualify, a borrower must be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident in an eligible state and meet applicable underwriting requirements. Not all borrowers receive the lowest rate. Lowest rates are reserved for the highest qualified borrowers. If approved, your actual rate will be within a range of rates and will depend on a variety of factors, including term of loan, a responsible financial history, income and other factors. Refinancing or consolidating private and federal student loans may not be the right decision for everyone. Federal loans carry special benefits not available for loans made through Splash Financial, for example, public service loan forgiveness and economic hardship programs, fee waivers and rebates on the principal, which may not be accessible to you after you refinance. The rates displayed may include a 0.25% autopay discount

The information you provide to us is an inquiry to determine whether we or our lenders can make a loan offer that meets your needs. If we or any of our lending partners has an available loan offer for you, you will be invited to submit a loan application to the lender for its review. We do not guarantee that you will receive any loan offers or that your loan application will be approved. Offers are subject to credit approval and are available only to U.S. citizens or permanent residents who meet applicable underwriting requirements. Not all borrowers will receive the lowest rates, which are available to the most qualified borrowers. Participating lenders, rates and terms are subject to change at any time without notice.

To check the rates and terms you qualify for, Splash Financial conducts a soft credit pull that will not affect your credit score. However, if you choose a product and continue your application, the lender will request your full credit report from one or more consumer reporting agencies, which is considered a hard credit pull and may affect your credit.

Splash Financial and our lending partners reserve the right to modify or discontinue products and benefits at any time without notice. To qualify, a borrower must be a U.S. citizen and meet our lending partner’s underwriting requirements. Lowest rates are reserved for the highest qualified borrowers. This information is current as of June 1, 2021.

2 Rate range above includes optional 0.25% Auto Pay discount. Important Disclosures for Earnest.

Earnest Disclosures

Interest Rate Disclosure

Actual rate and available repayment terms will vary based on your income. Fixed rates range from 2.59% APR to 5.79% APR (excludes 0.25% Auto Pay discount). Variable rates range from 1.88% APR to 5.64% APR (excludes 0.25% Auto Pay discount). For variable rate loans, although the interest rate will vary after you are approved, the interest rate will never exceed 36% (the maximum allowable for these loans). Earnest variable interest rate student loan refinance loans are based on a publicly available index, the one month London Interbank Offered Rate (LIBOR). Your rate will be calculated each month by adding a margin between 2.04% and 5.8% to the one month LIBOR. Earnest rate ranges are current as of 6/8/2021, and are subject to change based on market conditions.

Auto Pay Discount Disclosure

You can take advantage of the Auto Pay interest rate reduction by setting up and maintaining active and automatic ACH withdrawal of your loan payment. The interest rate reduction for Auto Pay will be available only while your loan is enrolled in Auto Pay. Interest rate incentives for utilizing Auto Pay may not be combined with certain private student loan repayment programs that also offer an interest rate reduction. For multi-party loans, only one party may enroll in Auto Pay.

Student Loan Refinancing Loan Cost Examples

These examples provide estimates based on payments beginning immediately upon loan disbursement. Variable APR: A $10,000 loan with a 20-year term (240 monthly payments of $72) and a 5.89% APR would result in a total estimated payment amount of $17,042.39. For a variable loan, after your starting rate is set, your rate will then vary with the market. Fixed APR: A $10,000 loan with a 20-year term (240 monthly payments of $72) and a 6.04% APR would result in a total estimated payment amount of $17,249.77. Your actual repayment terms may vary.Terms and Conditions apply. Visit https://www.earnest. com/terms-of-service, e-mail us at [email protected], or call 888-601-2801 for more information on our student loan refinance product.

Earnest Loans are made by Earnest Operations LLC or One American Bank, Member FDIC. Earnest Operations LLC, NMLS #1204917. 535 Mission St., Suite 1663, San Francisco, CA 94105. California Financing Law License 6054788. Visit for a full list of licensed states. For California residents (Student Loan Refinance Only): Loans will be arranged or made pursuant to a California Financing Law License.

One American Bank, 515 S. Minnesota Ave, Sioux Falls, SD 57104. Earnest loans are serviced by Earnest Operations LLC with support from Navient Solutions LLC (NMLS #212430). One American Bank and Earnest LLC and its subsidiaries are not sponsored by or agencies of the United States of America.

© 2021 Earnest LLC. All rights reserved.

3 Important Disclosures for CommonBond.

CommonBond Disclosures

Offered terms are subject to change and state law restriction. Loans are offered by CommonBond Lending, LLC (NMLS # 1175900), NMLS Consumer Access. If you are approved for a loan, the interest rate offered will depend on your credit profile, your application, the loan term selected and will be within the ranges of rates shown. ‍All Annual Percentage Rates (APRs) displayed assume borrowers enroll in auto pay and account for the 0.25% reduction in interest rate. All variable rates are based on a 1-month LIBOR assumption of 0.15% effective Jan 1, 2021 and may increase after consummation.

4 Important Disclosures for Laurel Road.

Laurel Road Disclosures

All credit products are subject to credit approval.

Laurel Road began originating student loans in 2013 and has since helped thousands of professionals with undergraduate and postgraduate degrees consolidate and refinance more than $4 billion in federal and private school loans. Laurel Road also offers a suite of online graduate school loan products and personal loans that help simplify lending through customized technology and personalized service. In April 2019, Laurel Road was acquired by KeyBank, one of the nation’s largest bank-based financial services companies. Laurel Road is a brand of KeyBank National Association offering online lending products in all 50 U.S. states, Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico. All loans are provided by KeyBank National Association, a nationally chartered bank. Member FDIC. For more information, visit

As used throughout these Terms & Conditions, the term “Lender” refers to KeyBank National Association and its affiliates, agents, guaranty insurers, investors, assigns, and successors in interest.

  1. Checking your rate with Laurel Road only requires a soft credit pull, which will not affect your credit score. To proceed with an application, a hard credit pull will be required, which may affect your credit score.
  2. Savings vary based on rate and term of your existing and refinanced loan(s). Refinancing to a longer term may lower your monthly payments, but may also increase the total interest paid over the life of the loan. Refinancing to a shorter term may increase your monthly payments, but may lower the total interest paid over the life of the loan. Review your loan documentation for total cost of your refinanced loan.
  3. After loan disbursement, if a borrower documents a qualifying economic hardship, we may agree in our discretion to allow for full or partial forbearance of payments for one or more 3-month time periods (not to exceed 12 months in the aggregate during the term of your loan), provided that we receive acceptable documentation (including updating documentation) of the nature and expected duration of the borrower’s economic hardship. During any period of forbearance interest will continue to accrue. At the end of the forbearance period, any unpaid accrued interest will be capitalized and be added to the remaining principle amount of the loan.
  4. Automatic Payment (“AutoPay”) Discount: if the borrower chooses to make monthly payments automatically from a bank account, the interest rate will decrease by 0.25% and will increase back if the borrower stops making (or we stop accepting) monthly payments automatically from the borrower’s bank account. The 0.25% AutoPay discount will not reduce the monthly payment; instead, the discount is applied to the principal to help pay the loan down faster.

Assumptions: Repayment examples above assume a loan amount of $10,000 with repayment beginning immediately following disbursement. Repayment examples do not include the 0.25% AutoPay Discount.

Annual Percentage Rate (“APR”): This term represents the actual cost of financing to the borrower over the life of the loan expressed as a yearly rate.

Interest Rate: A simple annual rate that is applied to an unpaid balance.

Variable Rates: The current index for variable rate loans is derived from the one-month London Interbank Offered Rate (“LIBOR”) and changes in the LIBOR index may cause your monthly payment to increase. Borrowers who take out a term of 5, 7, or 10 years will have a maximum interest rate of 9%, those who take out a 15 or 20-year variable loan will have a maximum interest rate of 10%.


This information is current as of April 29, 2021. Information and rates are subject to change without notice.

5 Important Disclosures for SoFi.

SoFi Disclosures

Fixed rates from 2.74% APR to 6.74% APR (with autopay). Variable rates from 2.25% APR to 6.39% APR (with autopay). All variable rates are based on the 1-month LIBOR and may increase after consummation if LIBOR increases; see more at If approved for a loan your rate will depend on a variety of factors such as your credit profile, your application and your selected loan terms. Your rate will be within the ranges of rates listed above. Lowest rates reserved for the most creditworthy borrowers. SoFi refinance loans are private loans and do not have the same repayment options that the federal loan program offers, or may become available, such as Income Based Repayment or Income Contingent Repayment or PAYE. SoFi loans are originated by SoFi Lending Corp. or an affiliate (dba SoFi), a lender licensed by the Department of Financial Protection and Innovation under the California Financing Law, license #6054612; NMLS #1121636 ( Additional terms and conditions apply; see for details. SOFI RESERVES THE RIGHT TO MODIFY OR DISCONTINUE PRODUCTS AND BENEFITS AT ANY TIME WITHOUT NOTICE.

6 Important Disclosures for Navient.

Navient Disclosures

1. NaviRefi loans are made by Earnest Operations LLC, a member of the Navient family of companies, subject to individual approval and underwriting criteria. California residents only: Loans made or arranged pursuant to a California Finance Lenders Law license. Additional terms and conditions apply.

– To qualify, you must be a U.S. citizen or non-citizen permanent resident of the United States, reside in a state we lend in, and satisfy our minimum eligibility criteria. You may find more information on loan eligibility here: Not all applicants will be approved for a loan, and not all applicants will qualify for the lowest rate. Loan terms are subject to eligibility. Approval and interest rate depend on the review of a complete application. Loan approval is subject to confirmation that your debt-to-income, free cash flow, credit history and application information meet the minimum requirements. You must have a minimum FICO score to be considered.

– You can choose between fixed and variable rates. Fixed interest rates are 2.75% – 6.04% APR (2.50% – 5.79% APR with Auto Pay discount). Starting variable interest rates are 2.13% – 5.89% APR (1.88% – 5.64% APR with Auto Pay discount). Variable rates are based on an index, the 30-day Average Secured Overnight Financing Rate (SOFR) plus a margin. Variable rates are reset monthly based on the fluctuation of the index. We do not currently offer variable rate loans in AK, CO, CT, HI, IL, KY, MA, MN, MS, NH, OH, OK, SC, TN, TX, and VA.

– You can take advantage of the 0.25% Auto Pay interest rate reduction by setting up and maintaining active and automatic ACH withdrawal of your loan payment. The interest rate reduction for Auto Pay will be available only while your loan is enrolled in Auto Pay. Interest rate incentives for utilizing Auto Pay may not be combined with certain private student loan repayment programs that also offer an interest rate reduction. NaviRefi rate ranges are current as of June 1, 2021 and are subject to change based on market conditions and borrower eligibility.

– The information provided on this page is updated as of 06/1/2021. Earnest Operations LLC reserves the right to modify or discontinue (in whole or in part) this loan program and its associated services and benefits at any time without notice. Check for the most up-to-date information. Terms and Conditions apply. Call 855-284-4893 for more information on our student loan refinance product.

– Earnest Operations LLC – NMLS #1204917, CA CFL #6054788 – 535 Mission St., Suite 1663, San Francisco, CA 94105.
Navient Solutions, LLC – NMLS #212430 – 123 Justison St., Wilmington, DE 19801. Visit for a full list of licensed states.

7 Important Disclosures for LendKey.

LendKey Disclosures

Refinancing via is only available for applicants with qualified private education loans from an eligible institution. Loans that were used for exam preparation classes, including, but not limited to, loans for LSAT, MCAT, GMAT, and GRE preparation, are not eligible for refinancing with a lender via If you currently have any of these exam preparation loans, you should not include them in an application to refinance your student loans on this website. Applicants must be either U.S. citizens or Permanent Residents in an eligible state to qualify for a loan. Certain membership requirements (including the opening of a share account and any applicable association fees in connection with membership) may apply in the event that an applicant wishes to accept a loan offer from a credit union lender. Lenders participating on reserve the right to modify or discontinue the products, terms, and benefits offered on this website at any time without notice. LendKey Technologies, Inc. is not affiliated with, nor does it  endorse,  any educational institution.

Subject to floor rate and may require the automatic payments be made from a checking or savings account with the lender. The rate reduction will be removed and the rate will be increased by 0.25% upon any cancellation or failed collection attempt of the automatic payment and will be suspended during any period of deferment or forbearance. As a result, during the forbearance or suspension period, and/or if the automatic payment is canceled, any increase will take the form of higher payments. The lowest advertised variable APR is only available for loan terms of  5 years and is reserved for applicants with FICO scores of at least 810.

As of 04/07/2021 student loan refinancing rates range from 1.90% APR – 5.25% Variable APR with AutoPay and 2.95% APR – 7.63% Fixed APR with AutoPay.

8 Important Disclosures for PenFed.

PenFed Disclosures

Annual Percentage Rate (APR) is the cost of credit calculating the interest rate, loan amount, repayment term and the timing of payments. Fixed Rates range from 2.89%-4.78% APR and Variable Rates range from 2.13%-5.25% APR. Both Fixed and Variable Rates will vary based on application terms, level of degree and presence of a co-signer. These rates are subject to additional terms and conditions and rates are subject to change at any time without notice. For Variable Rate student loans, the rate will never exceed 9.00% for 5 year and 8 year loans and 10.00% for 12 and 15 years loans (the maximum allowable for this loan). Minimum variable rate will be 2.00%. These rates are subject to additional terms and conditions, and rates are subject to change at any time without notice. Such changes will only apply to applications taken after the effective date of change.